Ana Vargas, ’20, Paola Lopez, ’20, and Juan Moralejo, ’20, are all Lehigh students from Central America. These three students discussed the challenges and excitements of being international students in the U.S. (Courtesy of Ana Vargas, Paola Lopez and Juan Moralejo)

Lehigh Worldwide: Three Central American students discuss experiences in U.S.

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Students from across the globe represent 78 countries at Lehigh. The series “Lehigh Worldwide” will introduce some of these students, grouped by continent or region, and their experiences in the U.S.

Ana Vargas, ’20, of Honduras, Paola Lopez, ’20, of Nicaragua, and Juan Moralejo, ’20, of Guatemala, are three students who left their homes in Central America in search for an education in the U.S.

Q: Why did you decide to come to the United States for college?

Ana Vargas: I came to the U.S. because I studied in the American School of Tegucigalpa. Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras. It’s basically an American school, where there’s only American professors, so my first language there is English. Since I was little, I knew I wanted to come to the U.S. because I was exposed to that environment and they pushed us to study abroad.

Paola Lopez: Lehigh actually recruits in my school, so they go and talk about the university. So I decided to apply because I liked the presentation they gave, and when I got in, they gave me a lot of financial aid.

Juan Moralejo: The United States has a better education (system) than Guatemala in my opinion, and my high school offered college counseling with opportunities to come here.

Q: How did you find out about Lehigh, and why did you choose to attend here over other institutions?

AV: My older sister goes to Lehigh. She found it online, like in College Board. Then she asked my counselor about it and (the counselor) was like, ‘That’s a really good school, you should apply to it.’ We know that Lehigh gives a lot of financial aid to international students, which is not something other schools do that much, so that was one of the basic reasons why I came. Because I knew they would give me a lot of financial aid, and I know they help a lot of international students. I also wanted to be in sciences and engineering, and it’s a good school for that.

PL: My college counselor actually went to Lehigh for her master’s (degree), so she recommended that I go here. I never visited or anything before I came here, but I love it now.

JM: I have friends here from years before me, and my college counselor recommended it.

Q: What are some of the biggest culture shocks you have experienced while attending Lehigh?

AV: Socially, it’s really different. Latin America is everything family-based, but here you’re on your own and relationships are much different and friendships and all that.

PL: Speaking English all the time — it’s not hard, but I got used to it. At the beginning, it was harder. Also, people shake their hands here instead of kisses. And also when I go to church, it’s in English, and I don’t know what to say. But the big one I think is the weather. I live in a tropical country, where the coldest it gets is like 70 (degrees).

JM: I mean, I think I didn’t really feel like a culture shock because I was in an American school in Guatemala, so the American culture was already around me all over high school . . . College in general is different because in Guatemala, colleges have a specific schedule where you go to college, take all your classes and then go home and do the rest of the stuff, but now you have little breaks in between classes, and you have to figure out what to do with your time.

Q: Is it difficult being away from home?

AV: I only get to go back home in December and summer, but I stayed last year for summer sessions here so it is (difficult) because, for example, the breaks like Thanksgiving and Pacing Break, I see all my friends going back to their homes, and I can’t do that, so it is hard. Like I said, I’m a really family-oriented person and not seeing my mom and my dad for four months is hard. But since my sister comes to Lehigh, I think I could experience more culture shock and feel worse if my sister wasn’t here.

PL: I mean my parents are coming this weekend. I have a twin sister, and she goes to college in Rhode Island. But the things I miss the most are the weather, the beach and the food. It’s not very hard. I mean, now I consider Lehigh my home.

JM: Sometimes, yeah. Some occasions.

Q: What do you like best about the U.S. and Lehigh?

AV: I like all the opportunities I can have here in America. I love that it’s so big, it’s so safe and I think it’s like another world. I used to be in a really small country — I knew everyone.

PL: I think what I like best about America or Lehigh is the transportation system. It’s so cheap to go everywhere. I also like that even though I don’t really like winter, I like that there’s more than cold seasons.

JM: All of the different careers that they offer, the variations of things you can do — there’s endless possibilities of what I can do here.

Q: What do you like least?

AV: The difference in cultures, and sometimes the stereotypes they make because there’s a lot of Americans here. There’s not a really big international student community, so whenever you say you’re an international student, you’re obviously a minority and you get to feel that a lot when you’re a minority. It’s a small school. I thought it would be much bigger. Also, classes are too hard. I took AP classes and I thought I was ready, but I think classes here are really, really, really hard. I sometimes get challenged because of the language — I obviously studied all my life in an American school, but there are things I get challenged (with) because it’s not my first language, like when I write papers and do my homework and all that.

PL: About Lehigh? I walk everywhere. I had a car at home, but now I walk. And the food also, it’s not really that good.

JM: Maybe that I’m away from family, and I don’t get to see them.

Q: What do you do to make yourself feel at home here?

AV: I try to communicate with my parents a lot, so I call them everyday. I also try to be around people from my own culture. We’re basically like a family. I try to feel like I’m at home with them, my sister and other international students as well.

PL: I hang out with Latin people and speak Spanish with them. I also listen to Spanish music. I joined Engineers Without Borders, which actually helps my country, Nicaragua. Also, I joined all the international clubs, like the International Business Club and LU Diplomats.  

JM: My religion makes me feel at home, so every time I go to church or mass.

 

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